Audacity and Hopelessness II

Correct me if I’ve missed one: But since the start of the whole Reverend Jeremiah Wright episode on the morning of March 13 over ABC – TV’s Good Morning America program, nobody whose thoughts have rattled around the cages of the establishment U.S. media (though this becomes an impossible judgment to make, as we move from print to TV and radio) has so far bothered to examine the truth or falsity of the allegedly unspeakable utterances selected from the Reverend’s sermons for ridicule and condemnation.  Instead, across the board, their falsity is assumed, as is their worthiness for denunciation.  The month of March 2008 will go down in the history books for the spectacle of respectable Americans climbing on top of the Rev. Wright’s carcass to out-denounce one another, and in so doing, to prove how much more truly American they are than he.


Of course, it goes without saying that nobody has felt free enough — let alone brave enough — though perhaps I should have said dumb enough from the point of view of advancing his career prospects? — to defend the substance of the Reverend’s utterances.  But can anybody tell me how many times the truth of the allegedly offensive words has been assessed?  On a scale of 0 to 100 (with "0" denoting "absolutely never," and "100" denoting "every time"), might you care to estimate the percentage of the time you’ve found somebody who considered their accuracy, and who declined to march in the parade alongside the rest of the denouncers? 


Instead, most everyone I’ve read these past 18 days simply assumed or consciously affirmed that the samples from the Rev. Wright’s sermons deserve the condemnations they’ve received.  Thereafter, opinion has divided into two camps: Camp (A), which holds that Candidate Barack Obama’s failure through that moment on March 14 when he finally did publicly condemn the Preacher means that the Candidate also deserves to be condemned; and Camp (B), which holds that, well, once the Candidate proved willing to publicly condemn the Preacher at this stage, this is sufficient to compensate for the Candidate’s past failure to condemn the Preacher — and – saints preserve us — now maybe the Candidate can lead us through "racial healing" to the Promised Land.  (Oh, yes.  And Hillary should drop out of the race.)


So then.  It is now the last Sunday in March, 2008.  And this sure is the United States of America. 


Before an American male whose mother was white and whose father was black can gain the Democratic Party’s nomination for the presidency, the Candidate first must renounce the black-half of his being, and purge every last vestige of blackness from his soul.


What is more, the Candidate must do it ritualistically, in recurring public spectacles; and his fellow Americans must also be allowed to participate in the ritual.  In fact, it is expected of them; and if they decline to participate, then they are un-American.  And if they seem overly reluctant to participate, or hesitate in any discernible way, then their Americanness will remain questionable. — One had better keep a close watch on them.


Long before this month, similar (i.e., structurally homologous) rituals had been demanded of the Candidate, as when the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago announced in January that it was honoring the Rev. Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam with the Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright Trumpeter Award.  That time, the candidate delivered the obligatory denunciation that was demanded of him.  All seemed well.  ("ADL Welcomes Obama’s Statement Denouncing the Anti-Semitism of Louis Farrakhan," January 15, 2008.)  

Yet, since this latest and far and away more virulent episode started on the morning of March 13,  what we’ve really witnessed is the Masscult of Mainstream America assigning to the Preacher and his sermons the role of objects for racial scapegoating. 

But even more important, the Masscult has assigned to the politicians, the intellectuals, and the media the role of racial scapegoaters: It is by performing public spectacles of denouncing the Preacher and his sermons that they display their fealty to the Masscult.


Whenever Americans warm to this role, my ear hears something deeper resonating below their words and deeds.  Namely:  I, Soandso, hereby pledge my allegiance to the Masscult of Mainstream America


So what we find in the month of March 2008 are ritualistic racial scapegoating.  And ritualistic group self-identifying.


Membership within the Masscult precludes understanding what the Preacher said: For to really understand that the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today is one’s own government, and that a people willing to spend more on war than on peace is fast approaching spiritual death, is to be on-the-outs with the Masscult.  While by their willingness to scapegoat the Preacher, the true believers show where their fealty lies.


My goodness.  What a creepy country this is.  


"Obama’s Pastor: God Damn America, U.S. to Blame for 9/11," Brian Ross and Rehab El-Buri, ABC – TV, March 13, 2008

"On My Faith and My Church," Barack Obama, Huffington Post, March 14, 2008
"A More Perfect Union," Barack Obama, Philadelphia, March 18, 2008

"The Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright and the Audacity of Truth," Wilmer J. Leon III, Truthout, March 22, 2008 
Denouncing and Renouncing," Stanley Fish, New York Times, March 23, 2008

"Beyond Vietnam," Martin Luther King, Jr. (Address Delivered to the Clergy and Laymen Concerned about Vietnam), Riverside Church, New York City, April 4, 1967.  (Also see the Martin Luther King, Jr. Papers Project at Stanford University.) 

"It Could Happen Here," Gregory Myerson and Michael Joseph Roberto, Monthly Review, October, 2006

"Audacity and Hopelessness," ZCom, March 16, 2008
Rev. Jeremiah Wright for President," ZCom, March 17, 2008 
Audacity and Hopelessness II," ZCom, March 30, 2008

(April 1): A friend forwarded to me the second of these two fine analyses by Ali Abunimah.  As I had caught the first of them when first posted to the Electronic Intifada website 13 months ago, let me re-post both of them here and now:

"How Barack Obama Learned to Love Israel," Ali Abunimah, Electronic Intifada, March 4, 2007
"The Senator, His Pastor, and the Israel Lobby," Ali Abunimah, Electronic Intifada, March 31, 2008

In his March 31, 2008 commentary, Ali Abunimah asks, and then answers: "Why must every black candidate to a major office go through the ritual of denouncing Farrakhan, a marginal figure in national politics who likely gets most of his notoriety from the ADL?….[T]he price of admission to the political mainstream is to abandon any foreign policy goals that diverge from those of the pro-Israel, anti-Palestinian lobby."

Unquestionably this is true.  Yet it is also overly narrow.  I know that a lot of very serious people disagree with how this works, the material and ideological flow-chart, as I understand it, always runs from American Power through the various foreign policy goals that it pursues.  That is, the quite real pro-Israel, anti-Palestinian lobby is itself a sub-species of something prior and much greater: The pro-American Power lobby.  True, there are different sects within the Church of American Power; and among the various sects, some are more influential than others.  But, in the final analysis, they all serve one and the same God.  Or else they belong to another religion altogether.

Returning to the "price of admission to the political mainstream," or the dues extracted from Candidate Barack Obama for the privilege of ascent within the Church of American Power: The way I see this is that the transformation of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright on the morning of March 13 into an object of racial scapegoatting worked as well as it did — just look and see how many, if any, establishment reports and commentaries have bothered to assess the truth or falsity of the excerpts drawn from his sermons, let alone defended these excerpts — on the contrary, a reflexive denunciation has been near universal — for the simple reason that the United States of America exists as two societies — one whose members have drunk the Kool-Aid of Power, and one whose members have not.

Although it’s not a black and white thing racially, nevertheless, these two societies are all-the-more separate and unequal: The Masscult of Mainstream America, and everybody else.

Since March 13, Candidate Obama has been compelled to show that he, too, will gladly drink the Kool-Aid.  That he, too, worships at the altar of this Masscult.

"‘The Israel Factor’," ZCom, March 3, 2007
"The Kerner Commission Report at 40," Dedrick Muhammad, Black Agenda Report, March 5, 2008

Last, I keep returning to the distinction that C. Wright Mills drew in Ch. 12 of The Power Elite (Ch. 12 also bears the title "The Power Elite"):

In a public, as we may understand the term, (1) virtually as many people express opinions as receive them, (2) Public communications are so organised that there is a chance immediately and effectively to answer back any opinion expressed in public. Opinion formed by such discussion (3) readily finds an outlet in effective action, even against – if necessary – the prevailing system of authority. And (4) authoritative institutions do not penetrate the public, which is thus more or less autonomous in its operations.

In a mass, (1) far fewer people express opinions than receive them; for the community of publics becomes an abstract collection of individuals who receive impressions from the mass media. (2) The communications that prevail are so organised that it is difficult or impossible for the individual to answer back immediately or with any effect. (3) The realisation of opinion in action is controlled by authorities who organise and control the channels of such action. (4) The mass has no autonomy from institutions; on the contrary, agents of authorised institutions penetrate this mass, reducing any autonomy it may have in the formation of opinion by discussion.

So: The United States already has split into two societies, one comprised of Masscultists, and one not, and radically separate and unequal.



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